October 20, 2014
The Honorable Patrick Quinn
The State of Illinois
An Inmate does not enter a prison gate destitute of all their constitutional rights.
— Jackson v. Hollowell, 714 F. 2d 1372, 1383 (5th Circuit, 1983).
One of our most treasured founding principles was the separation of church and state. Yet in Illinois we violate this principal and First Amendment protection for over 49,000 people daily.
An incarcerated person, under the First Amendment has the right to freely observe their religion without a fear of being subjected to physical and emotional abuse.
This is not the case in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The practice of requiring a person to declare their religious preference when they become wards of the state is not supported by any law, nor does it appear in any administrative directive. It is basically an ‘unofficial’ requirement.
An inmate’s religion is on the prisoners’ badge of all incarcerated persons in the Illinois Department of Corrections. A prisoner, who does not declare their religion during the intake process, is listed as an atheist. A prisoner who wishes to investigate and attend a service of another religion will do so strictly at a guard’s discretion. The average age at incarceration is less than 22; most people are still deciding what religion they will observe during their lifetime. Inmates can change their minds about their beliefs, but it is virtually impossible to change religions on their identification badge and explore another faith.
Public Law 94-521 prohibits the Federal Government from requiring religion as a means of identification. The Federal Prison System and all states, except Illinois, ceased the practice of displaying an inmate’s faith on the identity badge that they are required to wear. The basis of this decision was that this practice is a violation of human rights, as well as the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The Illinois Department of Corrections is the sole hold out and this is strictly by administrative choice. No Illinois legislative documentation exists, mandating that an inmate be earmarked in this fashion. Anti-Semitic or religious targeting is a consequence of an inmate’s religion being prominently stated on their badge. The resulting emotional or physical harm to an inmate is less than tolerable.
Illinois Department of Corrections doctrine provides no valid reason or purpose for this vilification and the stigma it creates for an inmate. At best, justification is the Supreme Court announcing in Turner v. Safley. “The standard for legality of prison policies under the Constitution holds: “when a prison regulation impinges on an inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penal-logical interests. Courts are to consider four factors in determining whether this logical relationship exists:
(1) whether there is a “valid, rational connection” between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental objective proffered to justify it;
(2) the availability of “other avenues” for exercising a protected right;
(3) the impact that accommodating the right might have upon other prisoners, guards, or the distribution of prison resources,
(4) whether there are “ready alternatives” to the policy.”
Declaring one’s religious affiliation is not necessary for prison safety. It is not on your driver license or a state id. The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious affiliation in its demographic surveys or decennial census. In fact, Public Law 94-521 prohibits us from asking any questions about someone’s religious affiliation on a mandatory basis; in any personal or household survey. Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.”
Controversially, significant medical problems are not permitted or stated on an inmate’s badge in Illinois correctional facilities, even by prisoner request. The lack of identification of life-threatening medical conditions has caused epileptics, heart patients, diabetics and others to suffer unjustified punishment because they are ill.
There is no safety risk or adverse outcome to either a guard or another inmate that correlates with the cessation of this heinous practice. Instead it allows discrimination based on religion. It fosters segregation and incites interpersonal differences. Therefore, eliminating this procedure would seem a prudent decision.
The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment defines this: “Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.“
We must stop religious discrimination by eliminating this form of identification.
Please stop this heinous practice immediately.